The Quilts of Valor Foundation will honor a WWII Veteran and a Korean War Veteran
They met at a rehab facility in Commack, one being a WWII veteran, the other having served in the Korean War.
It was just before the COVID-19 pandemic and it wasn’t long before roommates Edwin Pyser and Herbert Gold became friends.
Pyser had been a mechanic in the Air Force during World War II, enlisting as a private, leaving as a sergeant. He had been with the 96th Bomb Group at Eccles Road Air Base, north London, between Cambridge and Norwich, where he worked on B-17 Flying Fortress bombers. Gold, recovering from hip replacement surgery, had been in the military, as a private, as a corporal, serving with the 47th Infantry Regiment in Inchon, Pusan and Seoul – although he never seen a fight.
“We were in the same room,” Gold said of that period of detox, “and we joked around a lot. We talked about the areas we were involved in, what we saw. And when we saw other patients walking past our room, we would ask, “Are you a veteran? When they said ‘No,’ we said, ‘Carry on!’ »
On Saturday, Pyser, 99, of Greenlawn, and Gold, 90, of Levittown, will be honored by the Long Island chapter of the Quilts of Valor Foundation, who will each present a patriotic quilt during a ceremony at the Eisenhower War Memorial in Eisenhower Park at East Meadow. Since 2003, Quilts of Valor has awarded over 320,000 quilts to veterans across America.
“I think the organization is wonderful for doing this,” said Gold’s daughter Stephanie Gold, who manages singer Gloria Gaynor – and said Gaynor plans to attend. “So many veterans are unrecognized. Young kids today, I think they have no idea what these guys did so they could have their freedoms.
Herb Gold was born in Brooklyn in May 1932 and grew up in Queens, the Bronx and Manhattan. He had just graduated from Seward Park High School when he was drafted in 1950 – reporting to the Whitehall Street Absorption Center in Manhattan.
“At that time,” Gold said, “they were short on Marines. And this is how they picked you. One guy counted – 1, 2, 3, Marines – and if you were the fourth guy in line, that was everything. You were a sailor. I was 2, so I missed that. But that’s what I remember, that guy who mattered while you stood in line to get shot by all these different needles.
Gold underwent basic training at Fort Dix, New Jersey, and then was shipped to Korea.
“My outfit saw the action,” Gold said. “But I missed the actual fight. . . Of course, I was worried. I understood what was happening – and I was ready, if necessary, to do what had to be done – but I was lucky.
After the war, Gold had three children and worked for Western Union repairing teleprinters.
He later became friends with then-Nassau County Executive Tom Gulotta, working in his administration to help veterans get tax cuts.
Pyser, 99, was born in August 1923 and grew up in the Bronx.
A left-handed pitcher in James Monroe High School, he was good enough to earn tryouts with the New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers.
A few days after Pearl Harbor, Pyser enlisted in the Air Force.
An aptitude test turned him into a mechanic and after training he was sent to England, where he served at Eccles Road.
B-17s were one of the main four-engine heavy bombers used by the United States against Germany during World War II. The aircraft was renowned for bringing aircrews home despite massive battle damage.
“Sometimes the planes were so badly damaged that they didn’t have enough power to make the runways,” Pyser said. “Sometimes they crashed. We saw the doctors – they came with us on the planes – and we saw them taking out guys, guys who had been shot. . . I was very curious to know what had happened. But, the combat crews, they would just leave.
“They didn’t want to talk about what they had been through.”
Contrary to portrayals in movies and in the press, Pyser said that many crew members often tried to get out of flight missions.
“You felt for them,” Pyser said. “For us mechanics, I guess we were the safest. We weren’t in fighter jets, we were just working on them, flying them again. It was much worse for them.
Pyser said the great terror for the men on the base were the V-1 rockets, the German buzz bombs, whizzing overhead, suddenly falling from the sky, exploding on impact. And there were also other everyday horrors.
Mechanics had their uniforms smeared with oil, grease, and other lubricants and, as a result, often cleaned their clothes in a solvent: gasoline.
The military made homemade stoves from converted oil drums to heat tents and barracks and one night, Pyser said, some mechanics fell asleep in their gas-soaked uniforms, which caused a huge explosion when the smoke ignited. “The next thing I remember is this friend was running,” Pyser said. “Guys were on fire, guys burned to death.”
Pyser met his wife, Edith, at a dance off base. His father had been a firefighter in London, killed when a burning building collapsed on top of him during a Luftwaffe bombardment.
Another big moment, he said, was D-Day.
“The sky was blackened by all the heavy bombers and planes crossing the English Channel,” he said. “At first we didn’t know what it was. They didn’t say, ‘It’s D-Day’, they just came to the barracks in the middle of the night, told us we had to prepare the flights – and that was it.
“But,” he said, “we knew it was something big.”
After Germany’s surrender, Pyser was on the Queen Elizabeth bound for New York when news broke that the atomic bomb had been dropped on Japan.
“We didn’t know what this atomic bomb was,” Pyser said. “All I knew was that meant I wasn’t going to Japan.”
Pyser then settled in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, working as a diamond setter in Manhattan’s diamond district.
His son Larry and Stephanie Gold make sure the two friends get together once a month for lunch – and both are delighted to have their fathers honored on Saturday.